Free Images from Museums, Libraries, and More!

By Charles Purdy

In 2018, we shared a few sources of high-quality free images for use in commercial projects—in “Not Another Free Image Clickbait Article.” Our goal was to help creatives by pointing them toward images that are out of copyright or that have been made publicly available by their creators—thus protecting reputations, karma, and careers (no one wants to see a client slapped with a copyright-infringement lawsuit!).

In this follow-up to that article, we share many more sources for free images, culled from the corners of the Internet. (Just to be safe, always check a website’s information to make sure its terms haven’t changed, before using an image downloaded from the Internet.)  

OUR FIRST STOP: THE MET!

In 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art implemented a policy known as Open Access, which makes images of artworks that its curators believe to be in the public domain available for unrestricted use (in accordance with the Creative Commons Zero designation). To search the Met’s collection for free images, make sure the Open Access option is selected.

What doesn’t the Met have? Its database offers a tour of 5,000 years of art and culture, at your fingertips. The museum has marked thousands of items in its collection as Open Access, meaning that the images may be freely used in Adobe Creative Cloud projects.

THE LIBRARY IS ALWAYS A GREAT RESOURCE

The New York Public Library has marked more than 180,000 items—illustrations, maps, photos, ephemera such as menus, manuscripts, and so much more—in its collection as copyright-free and put them online for our use. (It has also created a cool visualization tool that you can use to sort items by genre, century, and color.) 

Then jaunt (digitally) down to Washington, D.C., and you can peruse parts of the United States Library of Congress’s collection that its librarians have deemed free to use and reuse. 

The New York Library’s collection of free images includes vintage illustrations, but that’s just a small fraction of what they have made available, along with maps, books, sheet music, and more. (Just select the Search Only Public Domain Materials option when searching.)

And here’s another library collection to get lost for hours in: in 2013, The British Library announced that it was adding over a million free images to Flickr for anyone to “use, remix, and repurpose.”

Many of the British Library’s images are taken from books from the 17th, 18th, or 19th century.

GETTING INTO HISTORY

The United States National Archives makes almost 17,000 of its most interesting copyright-free images available on Flickr (many more can be found on the organization’s website)—photos produced by the federal government are frequently made available to the public for use in any context. And while you’re visiting federal agencies, don’t miss the United States Department of Agriculture, which makes several thousand images of animals, plants, and even people available for free use.

The United States National Archives includes historical photos, as well as photos documenting everyday life in the country, throughout the 20th century. Or if you’re looking for images of livestock, plants, or agricultural workers, head on over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

FINAL STOP: LOS ANGELES

The largest art museum in the western United States, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, also has a very large collection of copyright-free images that it has made available online. Search its collection of art and objects from around the world, with the Show Public Domain Images Only option selected, to see nearly 25,000 publicly available images.

The copyright-free collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art includes objects and art in every imaginable medium, from all over the world. 

On the hunt for copyright-free images for your compositing, collage, prototyping, illustration, or other projects? Be sure to also check out the resources in our first free-image roundup. And share your favorite sources in the Comments section below!


February 15, 2019